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Minter: NASCAR Needs To Start Showing Blind Data

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 30 2009
Juan Montoya speeds out of pits at Indianapolis. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Juan Montoya speeds out of pits at Indianapolis. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Thursday Observations:

* In recent years NASCAR has begun making all sorts of on-track data available to teams, media and fans. There are all sorts of “loop data” numbers available, made possible by the latest electronic scoring loops that have been placed at every track.

But the one bit of information not made public lends fodder to conspiracy theorists and makes nearly everyone else wonder just what’s going on at times. That missing information is pit road speeds. They’re critical these days, as Juan Pablo Montoya found out at Indianapolis, where a speeding penalty wiped out a giant lead and led to an 11th-place finish in a race he dominated.

Even one of the chief beneficiaries of that ruling, Indy-winning crew chief Chad Knaus, said he’d like to see the data made readily available, if for no other reason than to help him accurately calculate his driver’s speed on pit road. NASCAR cars don’t have speedometers, so the critical speed calculations wind up being a calculated guess. And with passing for the lead difficult at many tracks, especially Indy, drivers are forced to push the limits on pit road, not knowing exactly what those limits are.

“Once you hit pit road, we don’t have any reference,” Knaus said. “We have mathematical equations based on the tire stagger, gear ratio, the pit road speed we have to work off of.

“I’m hoping that at some point we’ll be able to see the pit road speeds published, because that will allow us to work within limits that we’re comfortable with….

“We push Jimmie to go as fast as he can on pit road. It’s kind of an unknown right now, that’s ….kind of a guessing game weekly on that.

“I’m hoping eventually NASCAR will actually publish those speeds so we can adjust our times accordingly throughout the events.”

Making that data available seems plenty sensible. There must be some reason NASCAR withholds it.

* Joe Gibbs Racing, like a lot of other teams in Sprint Cup, has spent most of the season chasing the Hendrick and Hendrick-affiliated cars that have won 11 of the past 15 races and swept a slew of the top-five finishing positions as well. But it’s the JGR folks who are the ones being chased in the Nationwide Series.

On that side of the garage, JGR’s No. 18 and No. 20 teams have won nine races, six by Kyle Busch and three by Joey Logano, who is only running a partial schedule.

Busch also has six runner-up finishes and is riding a streak of eight straight finishes of first or second place and has a whopping 192-point lead over Carl Edwards in the championship standings.

As Denny Hamlin explained it on this week’s NASCAR teleconference, JGR, like Hendrick on the Cup side, simply has the most resources.

“We’re pretty fortunate with what we have as far as our sponsors in the Nationwide, so ultimately we’re able to build new race cars, better race cars, lighter race cars,” he said. “I think that’s the edge we have over there.”

* With full-time Cup drivers dominating the Nationwide Series again this year, the debate continues over how to give the Nationwide regulars a share of the spotlight. Saturday’s race at O’Reilly Raceway Park illustrated one way to give the Nationwide folks some attention without unduly penalizing the double-dipping Cup drivers, who have become a big draw for the No. 2 series.

Race winner Carl Edwards, runner-up Kyle Busch and third-finishing Matt Kenseth had to start at the back of the pack because of their conflicts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Nationwide qualifying was being held. They made it to the front eventually and made the race more interesting along the way.

So why not make the full-time Cup drivers start at the back in Nationwide every week?

* NASCAR appears to be moving ahead with plans to implement the Car of Tomorrow in the Nationwide Series, but the change is coming at a time when car owners everywhere are struggling with the effects of a prolonged recession.

Reports indicate that the Nationwide COT won’t debut before July at Daytona, and it likely will see only limited action next year.

“In the days ahead, we will digest what was discussed today and make a final decision on the rollout for next season with full anticipation of integrating the new car for the entire 2011 schedule,” NASCAR vice-president Robin Pemberton said following a meeting with team owners this week.

Ford announced that it’s Nationwide COT will carry a Mustang body, which given the pony car’s heritage, should add some spice to the roll-out.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 30 2009
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